This magnificent and exceptionally rare pair of bronze sculptures by Evgenii Lanceray (lots 141 and 142) constitute a wonderful discovery for the world of Russian Art, bringing to light an unrecorded pair of the artist’s monumental equestrian sculptures.
The pair was acquired by Derrick Warner William Westenra, the 5th Baron Rossmore (1853-1921) at the beginning of the 20th century, and remained in the family ever since. It is remarkable that the discovered sculptures were unrecorded in the literature on the artist; this is only possible due to their remote location in a private home first in Ireland and then in South Africa from where the sculptures were brought for sale at Christie’s.
The Westenras and Rossmore Castle
A photograph taken before 1939 shows the interiors of Rossmore Castle in Monaghan, Ireland, with The Kirghiz with a Golden Eagle (fig. 1). The castle was constructed in 1827 by Henry Robert Westenra, the 3rd Baron Rossmore. After the Second World War, the house developed a case of dry rot, and the 6th Baron and his family left the castle, which was subsequently demolished in the 1970s.
The sculptures were relocated from Ireland to South Africa shortly after the Second World War, where they stood outside the house of Lady Mary Bailey, née Westenra (1890-1960). Another photograph, taken before 1960, shows both the Falconer and the Kirghiz outside her house in Kenilworth, Cape Town (fig. 2).
Lady Mary Bailey was the daughter of the 5th Baron Rossmore. Known as the ‘Rossmore Aviatrix’, she was one of the first female pilots in the world. In 1911 she married Sir Abraham Bailey (1864-1940), a South African diamond randlord, politician and one of the most influential art collectors of the early 20th century. Both were great horse lovers and hunting enthusiasts, and their collection largely consisted of works dedicated to sporting art, racing and hunting on horseback.
The Tsar’s Falconer and The Kirghiz with a Golden Eagle
The offered sculptures are directly linked to Lanceray’s smaller models of a falconer and Kirghiz created in 1872 and 1876 respectively. A few years later, the artist modified them to create bigger, life-size sculptures which were cast by Chopin in 1878 as a pair.
It is unknown how many pairs were cast in total, but at least three of them are known to exist, making the present pair the fourth example. The most well-known pair is located at Jardin Boviès at the heart of the French city of Menton. Alexandre Benois wrote in his Memoirs that ‘Lanceray was making equestrian statues of the falconers which, when cast in bronze, decorated a garden in Menton (someone had gifted them to the city)’¹.
Another pair of statues was transported from St Petersburg to Baku in 1926 in order to be placed in the vestibule of the sanatorium Apsheron. They are now part of the collection of the National Art Museum of Azerbaijan.
The third known pair was commissioned by Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna who married George I of Greece in 1861. The sculptures decorated the gardens of their Greek summer palace of Tatoi, near Athens.
It has been suggested that around the year 1900 the famous English art dealer Lord Duveen acquired a pair of these sculptures for an anonymous collector². It is possible that this was the present pair, purchased by Baron Rossmore of Monaghan at the beginning of the 20th century, and which remained in his family ever since.
The appearance of such masterpieces by one of the most important Russian sculptors represents an unprecedented opportunity for collectors.
¹ Alexandre Benois, Moi vospominaniya. V pyati knigah. [My memories. In five books], Moscow, 1990, vol. 1, p. 616.
² G. Sudbury, et al., Evgueni Alexandrovich Lanceray: le sculpteur russe du cheval, Paris, 2006, p. 124.